The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Dewbury’s first purpose-built nursery

IT ISN’T easy to think of anything positive to write about these days but at least we can look back to happier times.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 4:25 pm
First for Dewsbury: Pictured are children who attended the new purpose-built nursery school built on the Flatts in Dewsbury in 1950. The teacher reading a story to them is Catherine Tarney, who has kindly loaned us this photograph.
First for Dewsbury: Pictured are children who attended the new purpose-built nursery school built on the Flatts in Dewsbury in 1950. The teacher reading a story to them is Catherine Tarney, who has kindly loaned us this photograph.

Older people are now in lockdown and we won’t be seeing our children and grandchildren for some time.

So, with this in mind, I have searched my files for a picture which I hope will gladden the hearts of most.

I remember when the nursery school pictured above was built in 1950, the first ever first purpose-built nursery in Dewsbury.

Margaret Watson.

It was built at the top of the street where I lived – Woodbine Street on the Flatts – just four years after the end of the war.

I was nine years old and the new school which was just a few yards away from our house was a sign of better things to come.

It was built for those mothers who wanted to go out to work and was completely free for children aged from two to five.

We watched it being built brick by brick, and didn’t mind in the least the rumble of builder’s trucks passing by our houses daily.

Nor did we object to having to rush out to raise our clothes lines strung across the street to let them through.

For there was a mood of optimism all around us and the new school with its big sunshine windows and beautiful landscaped garden, was all part of it.

In some ways it was an oasis in our midst, living as we did in street after street of tiny, cramped back-to-back houses without a tree in sight.

When the school opened I would listen to the laughter and chatter of the children passing by on their way to nursery every morning.

The headmistress Miss Brown, whose first name nobody seemed to know but which I later discovered was Evelyn, also passed our door, looking every bit the lady.

She lived in a big house nearby on Northfields, and a few years earlier had been Mayoress of Dewsbury when her father, Councillor James Brown, was mayor.

I’m sure the arrival of this school right on our doorstep triggered something in the minds of those living nearby.

For suddenly they all seemed to look at their homes in a new light and started getting rid of the old and replacing it with the new.

Out went black-lead fireplaces and in came pretty new tiled ones, and the single gas ring on which all our cooking was done, went the same way.

In came a gleaming new gas cooker with four rings and also a gas operated water “geyser” to supply us with running hot water all day long

Another big surprise was to come when mother that she was getting rid of our upright piano and making a gift of it to the new school.

She would replace it with a new green moquette settee from Harry Senior’s furniture shop, paid for weekly on what we called the never, never.

No-one in our house had ever had a piano lesson in their life but that didn’t stop me and my sisters being able to do a good rendition of “The Blue Danube”.

Every Christmas my mother would play “Silent Night” and when Uncle Joseph visited, he would play “Poet and Peasant” with such gusto, the candlesticks on top nearly fell off.

Mother consoled us our piano was going to the right place and would now enliven the lives of other children, as it had ours.

Pianos were fast becoming obsolete during this time because our brave new world was now providing us with record players and television sets.

It wasn’t easy, however, to dispose of pianos at that time and most ended up on bonfires.

Even Charlie Stringer’s “We Buy ‘Owt” emporium turned up its nose at them.

It turned out that ours was not the only piano to be presented to the school.

They were given three and all were well used.

This new nursery was the first of its kind to be built in Dewsbury and the town council made sure it had the best of everything.

They even built in its grounds a handsome detached house for the man who was lucky enough to be appointed caretaker.

The school is still standing and is well used, but the houses which once surrounded it, including mine, are not.

They were all demolished as part of a massive slum clearance programme in the 1950s and 60s, to be replaced by attractive new houses and flats.

Indeed, the oldest building now standing on the Flatts is the one, which in the 1950s was the newest – the nursery school.

At the moment we are going through awful times but do take heart because they will pass.

And I will continue writing this column while ever I can, and if you want to add your memories to it, please do.

Keep safe and God bless.

Send your Tarney nursery memories to [email protected]